By Will Graves
October 15, 2014
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Ben Roethlisberger turned his head and cracked half a smile. The Pittsburgh Steelers are struggling to score points, even against the Cleveland Browns. He gets it. He's just not going to freak out about it.
If you were expecting a meltdown with the Steelers at 3-3 heading into Monday night's game against Houston, look elsewhere.
''There's no time to panic,'' Roethlisberger said Wednesday. ''You guys are waiting for us to panic. We're not panicking.''
Not yet anyway.
Still, there is room - a lot of room - for improvement. And not even the two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback is immune. Roethlisberger looked impatient at times and ineffective at others during a 31-10 whipping at the hands of resurgent Cleveland last Sunday. He completed just 50 percent of his passes, a number skewed by miscommunication and mental errors, many of them by the talented but still raw skill players at his disposal.
Second-year wide receiver Markus Wheaton dropped a pair of passes and appeared out of position on a couple of timing routes. Running back Le'Veon Bell couldn't keep his feet inbounds on a 40-yard pass that could have changed momentum with the outcome still in doubt. Justin Brown did little and even veteran Lance Moore let balls clang off his hands before catching a meaningless touchdown in the fourth quarter.
The worst loss to the Browns in 25 years set off plenty of alarm bells outside the locker room. It has not rattled the confidence or the poise of the 32-year-old Roethlisberger.
''Ben is always a calm guy in the huddle,'' Bell said. ''Obviously when guys aren't making plays there's a little bit of frustration about everything. But he's not throwing fits or tantrums about anything. He understands guys are going to make mistakes.''
He also understands it's the time of the season when the miscues need to start disappearing from the game film if the Steelers want to stamp themselves as a serious threat in the wide-open AFC North, which has three teams separated by one game.
Roethlisberger refuses to place any blame for Pittsburgh's inability to turn long drives into touchdowns on offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who has expanded the playbook with a series of exotic looks that include plenty of five-wide sets and little of the power running game that has long been a franchise staple.
There are plenty of reasons why the Steelers are sixth in total offense and 23rd in points. Roethlisberger doesn't believe the playcalling is one of them.
''I think we've had less looks this year than we've had in coordinators past,'' he said. ''I don't think that's an issue. I just think we was players need to execute better.''
After a bumpy beginning in 2012, Roethlisberger and Haley have reached a detente. Haley installed a no huddle offense in 2013 that gave Roethlisberger more freedom and allowed the quarterback to put the ball in the air with regularity.
Roethlisberger is on pace to match the franchise record for pass attempts he set last season and top 4,000 yards passing for the fourth time in his career. He's also on pace to miss the playoffs for a third straight year.
Pressed on if the Steelers have become too much of a finesse team on offense - an accusation levied by former wide receiver Hines Ward - Roethlisberger just shook his head.
''That's outside this locker room and we just care about what's going on in here,'' he said.
Or what's not going on, namely finding a way to score touchdowns. Pittsburgh has reached the end zone just three times in its last 10 quarters. The Steelers have tried throwing it. They've tried running it. Both approaches have failed to produce the desired results.
The nadir may have come in the fourth quarter against the Browns. With the Steelers hopelessly behind, Roethlisberger tried to end a frustrating day with something resembling momentum only to overthrow a wide-open Wheaton in the end zone. It was a routine play that ended with an uncharacteristic error symbolic of three hours of misery as Roethlisberger lost to the Browns for only the second time in 20 career starts.
Roethlisberger took the blame - he always does following every loss- but remains encouraged. When he arrived at the team's training complex on Wednesday, Wheaton was there to join him for an extended film session.
''I broke down every single pass play that he did and told him what I expected (and) what I thought he did right or wrong,'' Roethlisberger said. ''He's the type of guy that is going to take that and make himself better.''
Something Roethlisberger could just as easily say about himself. For all the yards he's piling up, the defining number of his success remains the first digit in the win-loss column.
''It's his job to win,'' coach Mike Tomlin said. ''That's what drives him.''
Just not to the panic button.
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